I cannot tell you how many times I get asked where people can find good Mexican food around Fresno. It’s ironic, because my friends who’ve left the area always tell me how much they miss the great Mexican food we have here. Nonetheless, the best Mexican place in town is up for debate (Castillo’s usually has my vote).
But I’m ready for something different.
Fine Mexican Dining
Earlier this month, I read about Mexican Chef Enrique Olvera changing the perception of Mexican food in New York, along with other Mexican restaurants bringing their flavors to that not-traditionally-Mexican scene. While I don’t mind a good taco-enchilada combo plate with a ginormous margarita to wash it down, I wonder how Fresno might interpret a higher-end, more innovative take on something we’ve all come to know and love.
What would Fresno’s version of Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill (menu here) look like? Would we embrace it?
When Limón Peruvian Cuisine first opened its doors in San Francisco, they were among the few to showcase Peruvian food in a gourmet setting. Now, in Fresno, the restaurant has a regular following, has grown into a larger location, and has hopes to expand to multiple locations. Chef Aldo Escribens makes french fries and white rice look like a culinary masterpiece every time he serves their popular lomo saltado. Everything they do there is done with precision and class, with a consistent quality of flavor.
Over 70 years ago, in Selma Calif., Sal Salazar and his wife opened a restaurant serving lunches to farm laborers. He started the business to provide for his children so they could live the American dream. He never imagined that his daughter, Lorraine, would go to college (UCLA) and later return to the very business he expected to only serve as a career launching pad. Now, with her brother Carl, her son and nephews, Sal’s Mexican Restaurants have locations in Selma, Fresno and Madera as a third generation family-owned business. I met with Lorraine at the Selma location (my first time there!) for for a family business research project I’m doing with Fresno State’s Institute for Family Business. Below is her interview.
But first – I made an interested discovery that day about Lorraine Salazar (which you’ll also see in the video). She has an extensive knowledge of Mexican cuisine. She’s been training with some of the best chefs in the nation, taking specialty culinary trips for the past 13 years. She’ll tell you that Mexican food is so much more than what we understand it to be from the restaurants here. It varies by states, by regions, by families, by chefs. I’ve also seen this in my personal travels to Mexico City. There is an entire Mexican culinary world out there than can be expanded upon in Fresno.
You can get a taste of some of Lorraine’s experiences by ordering from the “specials” menu at any Sal’s locations. Though they are traditionally a family restaurant, she likes to introduce new flavors on a limited basis. I’m imagining that most Mexican restaurants in our area have gotten their start similar to the Sal’s story in that they’ve simply been businesses that have started as family economic support systems, rather than upscale culinary ventures set to raise the bar on traditional food.
So realistically, how close are we, Fresno? We just opened a new American gastropub (Guri’s); can we do a Mexican gastropub? A Mexican fine-dining restaurant? What would you suggest?
In midst of all this, a girl has gotta eat, right? Alisa is loves chatting with chefs behind the scenes and exploring the rich food culture of the Central Valley.